What Can You Learn from a Mayor, Anyway?
Whereas the theme of the current presidential campaign is well known, the mantra of the nation’s current class of mayors is surely less recognized. Yet, mayors throughout the country employ the same language to talk about their jobs and the important roles that their cities play in economic and cultural production. Indeed, mayors have “the most important job of any politician” because they are “where the rubber meets the road” listening to constituent suggestions, gripes, and praises. Cities are “economic engines” and the “backbone of the nation’s economy”. MayorTV heard these catch phrases time and again at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Yet, when pressed, each mayor expresses a unique perspective on urban and national policy that is, as Mayor Rhine McLin of Dayton, Ohio told me, reflective of their own city. Of course, the mayors that we interviewed from the Southwest talked a good deal about immigration, Mayor Mufi Hannemann of Honolulu emphasized the importance of tourism, and Mayor Jackson of Cleveland spoke about the need to address foreclosures.
But the commonalities – and differences – among the mayors cut across geographical and cultural lines. Common ground was found – often couched in the language used by Senator Obama in his speech to the conference on Saturday – in a new model for urban development: urban cores are to be the center from which prosperity radiates (“Who ever built a cake from the outside in?” Mayor Wilder of Richmond asked.) But within this framework was disparity, at times subtle, in the policies each mayor favored to address widening wealth inequality, climate change, and immigration.
Mayor Chavez of Albuquerque expressed support for free trade and called Senator McCain a friend of the nation’s mayors; Mayor Jackson of Cleveland fears another Republican administration; Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia described his tax incentive program to reduce recidivism; Mayor Dean of Nashville talked about some of the benefits of No Child Left Behind (true, while decrying the program’s lack of funding and pointing out other important deficiencies); and Mayor Miller of Toronto (yes, the Toronto in Canada) explained the benefits of funneling money, power, and respect to local government.
The nation’s mayors agree about many policies, from refunding Community Development Block Grants and the COPS program to passing comprehensive climate change and immigration legislation at the federal level. But each mayor has something special to offer from experience with his or own city. Albeit a mayoral talking point, being “where the rubber hits the road” provides mayors a unique perspective on the social, cultural, and economic challenges facing – and the solutions available to – the nation in which we now live.
Please check in to MayorTV later this week to hear the wide range of perspectives offered by the mayors of Albuquerque, Cleveland, Dayton, Honolulu, Nashville, Providence, Philadelphia, Richmond, Santa Fe, and Toronto.